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Introduction

04/27/2011

There are already many books about the art of writing. Why publish, or read, another one? This book is an account of my personal journey through the writing of over 200 essays at my original website (2001-2010), Wave of Consciousness. Those essays enabled me to develop a foundation of purpose and style. It is not just the study of grammar and the reading of literature that helped me to learn writing skills, but also the practice of writing. As I wrote, I had to use the dictionary and refer back to my grammar books: as an ongoing refinement of skills. It was a process of learning — about skills as well as topics — by writing about things that mattered to me. The essence of my writing proved to be: (A) inspiration, and (B) revision; and revision depends on skills.

As I wrote my essays on topics of politics, education, the profession of social work, and my daily life, I also occasionally wrote about writing. I have pulled that material together to form About Writing and Reading. My purpose is not to provide instruction — there are plenty of books for that — but to share my developmental process as a writer. The chapters in this book span the years 2002 through 2010. I discovered that the more I wrote, the more I had to master grammar, organization, and style. I am still learning. Creative writing, like reading, is a lifelong journey.

Before moving on to Chapter One, let me add a few words about self-publishing. There was a time when some writers, who could not find a marketable nook with commercial publishing companies, would pay to publish their work in a vanity press. These were companies that would publish any manuscript at the author’s expense. The author could then go to bookstores and try to distribute their books for sale. Now that we have computers and the internet, it is much more common and acceptable for people to express themselves through websites, blogs, or e-books. These forms of self-publishing have become a mainstay of citizen journalism as well as creative expression. Unlike some past writers who were both author and salesman, however, many who write for the internet give it away for free. But, at least, it gets published and it is accessible — unlike vanity press books that might remain in boxes in the garage. (Written 12/01/10)

Disclaimer

Some of the material in About Writing and Reading is fictitious: no actual people, places or events are depicted. Any resemblance to actual people (living or deceased) or events (past or present) is coincidental and unintentional. Regarding the non-fictional material, in some instances, descriptive details were modified to prevent any identification of real persons.

How to Navigate This Blog

Look at the upper right column and you will see a list of Chapters.  Click on any chapter you would like to read.  Or, just continue scrolling to the bottom of the page.

Permission to Quote and Reprint

You may quote or reprint any material from About Writing and Reading so long as you give credit to Natalia J. Garland and provide a link to this blog or reference this blog in your bibliography.

Posted on WordPress 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

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Chapter 1: Writing without Plagiarizing

04/27/2011

Background Information

There are politicians and elected officials who have blatantly plagiarized, but few people seem to regard this as scandalous. If you plan to do academic or creative work, however, plagiarism can ruin your career and reputation. As a consequence, you might never publish, teach, or lead a seminar again. I wrote this brief essay to define and reinforce my commitment to developing originality and style while maintaining my integrity. That was in 2007 — six years after I began publishing — which shows how long I have worked at becoming a genuine writer. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

Plagiarizing means taking what belongs to someone else in the world of writing. It involves the copying of another writer’s material or the stealing of ideas. Copying means just that: to copy words, phrases, paragraphs, or entire works from another writer’s compositions and then present the work as your own. Stealing ideas means to claim the original thoughts of another writer as your own. Plagiarizing happens in all fields of academic endeavor as well as in fiction and poetry.

How scrupulous do we have to be about copying words? When I was in school, the rule was never to copy more than three consecutive words. If you copied that fourth word, you were obliged to use quotation marks and give credit to your source. The only other alternative was to re-arrange (paraphrase) the material into your own version. But, is this always possible or even necessary?

What if you were writing a health article about Jane Doe who lost 55 pounds in 3 months? You have heard it on the T.V. news channels and read it in the newspapers: “Jane Doe lost 55 pounds in 3 months.” It is a precise, factual, declarative statement. What could you do to turn this into your own sentence? Not much. You could try changing the word order: “Fifty-five pounds were lost by Jane Doe in 3 months,” or, “In 3 months, Jane Doe lost 55 pounds.” The sentence becomes awkward and the process is a waste of energy.

Now, what about this example: “Mrs. Pontellier’s eyes were quick and bright; they were a yellowish brown, about the color of her hair.” That was the opening sentence from Chapter II of Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, written in 1899. It is artistically original, in contrast to the dry quality of the sentence about Jane Doe’s weight loss. If you were writing a critique of Chopin’s novel, the best practice would be to use quotation marks even if you used only two words such as “yellowish brown.” If you were writing your own story about a woman who had “yellowish brown” hair, your choice of those two words would be obvious plagiarism. You would need to find your own original way to describe your character’s hair.

Copying involves a simpler mental process than stealing. You KNOW when you have copied something word for word. You sat at a table in the library, with the book in front of you, and busily copied. You deceived yourself into thinking that nobody would recognize a few words copied from a lesser-known author such as Kate Chopin. The stealing of ideas, however, can involve the complicated inner workings of the mind. We might not always be aware that we are stealing.

Most of us get our inspiration from the ideas of others. We agree or disagree with someone’s ideas, or we continue along someone’s mode of thought and transform it into our own intellectual or artistic contribution. If you do a lot of reading in various books and magazines, and if you listen to the T.V. news every day, then you might not be aware that you have taken another person’s idea. Serious writers need to take notes on any ideas which inspire them and which they might want to recycle into their own work. Credit should always be given where due — just as you would want others to give you credit. Taking notes should be automatic. Even when you are watching T.V., document who said what, and where and when.

Writing requires complete honesty with yourself and with your readers. When I write, I know when something just doesn’t sound like me. Sometimes I write a catchy phrase or sentence, and it sticks out from the rest of my composition as not really belonging. Sometimes I am aware of the unintended plagiarism from the moment I write it. Other times, it takes a few readings before I am able to figure out why I feel disturbed over certain words. The more I develop my own style, the easier it is for me to recognize when something doesn’t sound like me.

It is also possible for different writers to have the same idea at the same time. This is especially true when writing about current events. It is not unusual to find several political experts, for example, writing similar opinions of a speech or a judicial decision. However, even though their thematic emphasis may be similar, how they choose and organize their details will be different and their styles will be unique.

How scrupulous do we have to be about stealing ideas? Okay — everyone has heard of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. Since the days when Freud developed his original idea of the id, ego, and superego, these have become common working terms in the field of psychology. No one cites Freud every time they use these words. It is as though Freud’s ideas have become so well-known that they are now public intellectual property which we freely use. It would be impossible, therefore, for anyone to try to claim the id-ego-superego construct as their own. If, however, you were writing a scholarly article about the id, you would certainly need to use supportive quotations and to cite which of Freud’s works you used in your study.

Why would a serious writer intentionally steal ideas? It probably stems from feelings of inferiority and wishful thinking. It takes a lot of studying and thinking to create original ideas, or even to analyze and evaluate the ideas of others. And, it takes a lot of writing experience to develop style. Plagiarism, for some writers, might be a matter of wishing they had created that catchy phrase, even to the point of giving their character “yellowish brown” hair.

The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to never, never, never do it intentionally. Use quotation marks and cite your sources when you are using someone else’s text or ideas. Be especially careful when doing academic or professional work. Take notes. Know your material thoroughly so that you can state it in your own words. Treat other writers with the same respect that you want for yourself. Be patient, work hard, enjoy growing, and eventually you will develop originality and style. (Written 11/12/07)

Posted on WordPress 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 2: Writing Is Like Walking Down a Dark Street

04/27/2011

Background Information

When I write, I go through a sequence of jotting down notes, making an outline, generating a rough draft, revising the draft as I write, and then putting the work through a final revision. Sometimes, however, I write without preparation. Sometimes, creativity advances promptly from a phrase or sentence: from a potent kernel of inspiration that ignites the topic. I began this essay with a simile about a dark street — because that was how I felt at the moment. I was going to write the entire essay about the dark street, but spontaneously changed course and created other similes which would describe other possible feelings about the same topic. This is one of the rare essays which I wrote rather quickly and without much revision. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

Creative writing is risky, toilsome, and personal. It is a process of channeling thoughts into literary comprehension, and resourcing one’s whole being to do this both naturally and intentionally. In other words, our knowledge and experience of life must be coordinated with grammatical skill and writing style. In an attempt to explain, describe, and model this process, let me offer three ways of looking at creative writing.

Writing is like walking down a dark street
It is midnight and the narrow streets are slick from a recent downpour of rain. There is still a slight drizzle, just enough to chill the air and force me to hunch my shoulders in self-protection. A gust of wind blows a crumpled manuscript across my path; the rat in the gutter laughs. What will happen next? Will a thug jump out from a corner and rob me? Will a friend drive by and offer me a ride home? Or will I continue walking alone down the murky street, using all my senses and instincts to guide me until I reach the end?

Writing means to become a voice in the silence, a light in the darkness, a reservoir in the deluge, a harvest in the drought. The writer is intensely interior in the formation of thoughts, yet socially generous with the resultant pages of self-expression. Any communication, however, is open to criticism (valid or cruel) and rejection (possibly censorship), as well as to affirmation and understanding. It takes determination and commitment to walk down that engrossing but perilous street of creativity — especially since the ending is never really known until it is reached.

Writing is like restoring a classic car
My relationship with cars has always involved a tension of love and hate. On the one hand, I despise cars because of their pollution, because of reckless drivers and horrible accidents, and because of highways which tear ugly gashes into our good earth. On the other hand, I desire to possess the beauty of cars and the confidence of speed and power. Classic cars represent quality workmanship, horsepower, and luxury (depending on model and year). The restoration of rusted junk to pristine condition preserves history and the good memories of other eras. But restoring a car is dirty work. It requires mechanical expertise, finding or ordering the right parts and finishes, and hours of labor in the garage.

Revision of a story or poem also involves a tearing-down and rebuilding process. Even though I thrive on writing, sometimes I dread the labor of revising a difficult essay. Occasionally, my revised composition barely resembles the draft or outline. The idea or premise, however, is still there. Whether I make obvious corrections or extensive alterations — whether the car is restored to factory specifications or customized with a new motor — the craftsmanship is still there. The goal is that the project conclude with enlightenment. The final manifestation must be vital, having its own momentum, and with no expense withheld.

Writing is like piecing a scrap quilt
Grandma may never have written a novel, but she knew what she was doing when she pieced odd scraps of fabric together to make a warm quilt. Grandma was resourceful. She dug deep into her basket of colors, shapes, and textures. She made everything fit together in a one-of-a-kind arrangement. Each scrap of fabric had meaning because it had been recycled from a dress or blouse, perhaps a flour sack, and then fashioned into a changed form with a new purpose. Grandma knew how to combine utility, decoration, and permanence for her family and future generations.

All of us who write — academically, professionally, creatively — must learn how to select and organize the components of language, content, and style. We must choose precise words, the length of sentences, and the sequence of paragraphs. We must decide the purpose of the topic, and the proportion of intellectual and emotional expression. The composition must withstand scrutiny no matter from which angle it is studied. There can be no poverty of ideas, no excuses for failure. The lines must cascade with conviction, with endless enjoyment, so that the message will be absorbed and used by the reader. Otherwise, the writer becomes extinct.

This concludes today’s three vignettes. Of course, the end of one composition is a signpost to the beginning of another. Well, the middle of a composition can point to the beginning of another, too. Perhaps you will be inspired to create your own descriptions as an exercise in self-awareness: thinking, feeling, and writing. The End. (Written 07/09/07)

Posted on WordPress 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 3: Writer’s Trash File

04/27/2011

Background Information

When I was in high school, I took a semester of creative writing. It was an elective course offered only to seniors. The teacher read one of my poems to the class — as an example of what not to do. She did not identify me by name; but her harsh criticism and mocking tone was a sickening experience for me. It felt like her words were a poisonous gel oozing into my heart, and then my bloated heart sank down into my intestines and lodged itself there. Anyway, she gave me a C-grade on the poem. I never told anyone that the poem was mine. Although the teacher afforded me anonymity, she also put me in an unwanted bond of secrecy between her and me.

My opinion is that some teachers (and doctors) are sadists who target people in dependent or trusting situations. In this essay, however, the memory of a better teacher connected with my topic — a teacher whose words I was able to utilize as a student as well as years later. Nowadays, I claim the right to decide for myself how closely my work approaches standards of excellence. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

One of my college English professors used to tell our class that there are two kinds of writers: those who write too much, and those who write too little. Between the two, he said, the former is the luckier category. Those who write too much must go through the painful process of sacrificing unessential words, sentences, and paragraphs over which they have labored. The advantage, however, is that enough material still remains even after the verbiage and wanderings are subtracted. Those who write too little must add to their composition. That usually means doing more research and fitting it into the already existing work. The rule of arithmetic for writers is that it is easier to subtract than to add.

When I write an essay, I often write too much. I get wordy, repeat the same ideas in different ways, and complicate my sentences with awkward construction. But it is difficult not to become attached to my own creations. The written word seems tangible, like a possession. There is satisfaction in ownership. Removing phrases is like heaving my comfortable living-room sofa into the street. The process feels both heavy and empty. The result, however, is clarity and organization within the new spaces of the old form.

Although I am not a prolific writer, I have many ideas and I constantly accumulate research. I keep a To Do File which always expands beyond the confines of a normal-sized file. In paper form, I jot down ideas and notes in spiral notebooks. My definition of exhilaration is to fill the tattered yellow notebook and start the fresh purple one. Some of the ideas in my notebooks will be fully developed, some saved for later, and some used piecemeal in other essays for which they had not been destined originally.

My problem is with the ideas and notes which I save for later development. For example, this morning I cleaned out a bookshelf and found a forgotten To Do File. It consisted of seven, partially intact, spiral notebooks held together by rubber bands. I had to sift through the pages and decide if I could rekindle the inspiration to transform my notes into essays, or if I should toss everything into the street with my living-room sofa. I courageously decided to pursue a new vista of creativity. I shredded everything.

Next, I sorted my beloved computer files. There were 20 essay projects with titles and with starter research downloaded from the internet. When would I find the time to write about 20 topics which had seemed important months ago, but which needed much more research and effort? Why had I never finished those essays? That was when I remembered my English professor’s wisdom: it is easier for a writer to subtract than to add. It would require tremendous exertion to complete the research and writing for 20 essays. I deleted everything.

Strangely, I felt a sense of calm when my To Do File crumbled into a Trash File. The unfinished writing had become a burden, a self-imposed duty with no joy. The topics had gone stale in my mind and I could not bring them back to a workable condition. It would be more invigorating to discover new ideas and to write new essays from scratch. By doing less, I could do more. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to lighten the load. (Written 06/21/07)

[NOTE: Some descriptive details in the Background section were modified to prevent any identification of real persons.]

Posted on WordPress 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 4: A Collection of Random Notes

04/27/2011

Background Information

Writer’s tend to think about writing–that is, about the craft itself. When I was writing my essays at Wave of Consciousness, I occasionally gathered random musings on various topics into single essays entitled “Notes” (“March Notes,” “December Notes,” etc.). This involved a technique or formula as well as personal style. Upon review of those essays, I realized how much the art of writing was always on my mind: as both process and product, and as process again and again according to how often the work was revised. Below are the sections of those essays that deal with writing, reading, and books. Notes No. 2 and No. 7 were written especially for this chapter and do not appear in any of my previous essays. (Written 12/01/10)

(1) Cell phones, script-writing, and acting
Although my age might be showing, as it sometimes does, I remember when movies and television shows were written without the inclusion of cell phone conversations — because cell phones had not been invented yet. There were scenes in which an actor or actress would be talking on the telephone, but they were often written as real monologues which required talent and the memorization of lines in order to perfect. Shakespeare wrote a lot of monologues: it was an art to write them as well as to deliver them on stage, and they were an integral part of the whole performance.

The cell phone interspersions in current script-writing, however, are frequent and mundane. They add nothing to the artistic value of drama and acting. It is like listening to someone talk on their cell phone in the supermarket: my reaction ranges from annoyance to who cares?! It is not entertaining or meaningful to listen to numerous cell phone interspersions in a television series. At most, they might help to carry the plot forward, to put events into sequence, but they are overly used, poorly done, and boring.

The problem seems to be one of duplicating real life in a script as opposed to artistically portraying real life. Cell phones are a reality — it might appear phony (pun intended) if they were eliminated from a script. However, cell phone conversations are not conducive to good drama. The challenge is to insert them in such a way that they add interest to the story.

Offhand, I recall an actress who was particularly adept at doing old-fashioned telephone monologues: Patricia Routledge in her role as Hyacinth in the British series, Keeping Up Appearances. She was masterful at captivating her audience using only her talent and one prop — her slimline telephone.

Cell phone users are possibly using their phones more for texting nowadays than for phone calls. I read that the average American cell phone user sends 584 texts per month. I have not really seen much texting in television shows. How boring to watch someone texting! Does anyone remember when personal computers first went on the market? Remember those big, beige, bulky monitors and rickety keyboards? In those days, some television script-writers began to include computers in the story. Usually, someone would be trying to locate secret or deleted files, and the camera would zoom on the computer monitor — as though to involve you in the process and make you feel like you really were getting inside information. It was a waste of film and a poor substitution for the arts of acting and photography. Give me Shakespeare’s soothsayers any day.
(Written 04/05/10)

(2) Cell phones and movies that resemble video games
After reviewing the above note, it occurred to me that the structure of some movies and television shows might be influenced by video games and graphic novels. Particularly, scenes are methodically fast-paced, and close-up images intermittently flash before the viewers eyes. There may be some important dialogue, but the emphasis is on photography and special effects.

There is a recent film triology in which the video-game technique is quite effective: The Bourne Identity and the sequels. The use of cell phones, along with car chases and geographical scene changes, seem appropriate to the crime genre — in this instance, an F.B.I. manhunt for an assassin who has amnesia, the assassination attempts on the assassin, and the amnesiac’s search for his lost identity. The Bourne triology has no message. It is total entertainment. All that distinguishes one movie from another is different cars and different geography (there are not even any noticeable wardrobe changes). I enjoyed the The Bourne Identity, but grew tired of the technique in the third sequel.

There is another movie I recall in which the graphic-novel technique seemed to work well: Man on Fire. The story, about a kidnapping in Mexico City, is told mainly through creative photography: a jittery collage of scenes with islands of close-ups and traffic. Although there was character development and emotional content (the redemptive relationship between an alcoholic bodyguard and a little girl), the movie was generally a visual experience. In these types of movies, the art of acting drastically departs from the old Broadway stage-style of memorization and delivery of lines. The art of acting is secondary to photography, special effects, violence and stunts.
(Written 11/22/10)

(3) On my bookshelf
Although James Michener (who died in 1997) is a popular author who wrote many novels, I never read any of his works. Recently, I came across what is probably one of his lesser-known novels, Journey. Written in 1988, the story takes place during the gold rush days of Alaska. It seems like an appropriate novel for 2009 because it is about money: both the adventure of obtaining wealth and also the conflicts which arise when people are motivated to amass wealth from character qualities of greediness and selfishness.

There is an extra treat at the end of the novel. Michener includes a chapter on writing novels in general, and specifically on how he went about writing Journey. The following is excerpted from pp. 298-300.

A manuscript is a subtle affair, and long ones such as those I most often write need to be carefully constructed; components that appear in an early episode are established there to be put to effective use in the latter part of the book, and incidents which seem almost irrelevant may have considerable meaning because they create values which become important later.I do not mean by this the use of contrived clues, as in a detective story. I mean the inherent components of storytelling, whose proper use is so essential in establishing style and winning reader confidence and participation. And I mean particularly the phenomenon of resonance.Almost any component of a narrative, adroitly used, can produce resonance. novel is an interwoven series of freighted words and images, of characters who behave in certain ways, of a physical setting which carries its own unique identification, and of the narrative which can be strengthened, or foreshadowed, by comparable incidents that have occurred earlier. I try constantly to introduce words, phrases, incidents and meanings in one part of the narrative so that when they reappear later they will do so with intensified significance. One of the joys of reading is the friendly recognition of these resonances.Resonance occurs, to the great advantage of any narrative, when the reader comes upon a phrase, a complete thought, a character or an incident with which he or she is already familiar. The reader then enjoys the pleasure of recognition or the thrill of renewed acquaintance or can admire the aptness of the passage.

I have thought of my novels as seamless webs which could start anywhere, end anywhere, and that, I suppose, is why some have felt that my concluding chapters are unsatisfying. The criticism is justified. I do not tie loose strings together; I do not want to imitate certain composers of symphonies who start to end their music some four or five minutes early and proceed with a noisy series of crescendoes until they finish with a titanic bang. I prefer to have my novels wind down at exactly the same place I used in starting them, as if to let the reader know that the basic situation goes on and on, and since it can’t all be of maximum intensity, I am forced to stop my orchestra somewhere.
(Note written 03/16/09)

(4) Growing up with books
Those of us who grew up with books (and only books) might have a cultural advantage over those who are growing up with computers. Let me make it clear that I enjoy and depend on my computer and the internet. I enjoy having worldwide communication with others whom I could never have met otherwise. And, I depend on smooth access to vast research materials which would be much more difficult and time-consuming to find in libraries.

Books, however, offer a different kind of pleasure: the opportunity to follow a particular author’s thoughts through successive publications, the joy of discovering a new author (such as Michener mentioned above, even though his works are relatively old), and the ability to pick and keep books as physical objects. My personal library provides me with great comfort. I have bought books which I have never read. But there they are, on the shelf, waiting for me like ripe fruit that never spoils. There is a satisfaction in the hunt for books, the acquisition of and organizing of subjects and authors, and the reading and re-reading of the printed word on paper pages bound together.

It is difficult to read articles on the internet because computer screens are hard on the eyes (I know, my age is showing). I usually visually scan an article and if it fills my needs, I download it and print it later on. This process does not carry the resonances of which Michener spoke in the above quotation. The literary processes of words, phrases, paragraphs, plot and characters do not stir my mind in the same way as a book held in my hands. It is difficult to imagine an intellectual or creative life bereft of browsing bookstores and libraries. Perhaps the key to a literary life is to blend the convenient and communicative aspects of technology with the ownership and relationship aspects of books and authors.
(Written 03/16/09)

(5) Computers and ageism
A recent campaign tactic has been to criticize Senator John McCain for not knowing how to use a computer. I heard on a couple of T.V. news programs that McCain’s war injuries prevent him from typing. Whether or not this is the reason, I doubt the opposition was aware of the extent of McCain’s physical limitations. The intent of the criticism seemed to be to portray McCain as old, feeble, and out of touch with reality. My reaction is that the criticism is an example of ageism: unfairness toward senior citizens. In other words, modernity rather than a lifetime of experience is what matters when measuring competence.

Computer literacy should not be the standard for evaluating an individual’s ability to understand and relate to the world. There are probably many senior citizens who do not use computers, or who use them only to send e-mail. The library in my area is filled with senior citizens using the computers for one purpose: to send e-mail to family. They have managed their entire lives without computers, but they have learned to appreciate the convenience of e-mail communication. Many of those e-mails probably go to grandchildren who have grown up with e-mail and never written a letter on paper.

There are various reasons, outside the job, that people use computers. Students need to do research and type reports. Some people shop on the internet because they can find products without fighting the mall traffic, and sometimes there are special internet-only deals. And, some of us seem to be gatherers and organizers. We enjoy reading worldwide newspapers and magazines without paying for subscriptions (which we cannot afford), as well as finding citizen journalists who have something worthwhile to say and who would otherwise remain unknown. We can create our own reference files of trusted ‘outsiders’ who are sometimes more impartial and perceptive than some professional writers.

The important thing for a presidential candidate is not whether he uses a computer, but whether he acquires knowledge — books, newspapers, and magazines are just fine for that purpose. What was the last book McCain read? How many books does he read per year? How many magazine subscriptions does he have (this is more important than how many houses)? These questions should be asked of both candidates: because the more time you spend on the internet, the less time you have to read.
(Written 09/22/08)

(6) Writing for quality and authenticity
The tool shed in my backyard serves several purposes. In addition to my garden tools, paint supplies, and craft materials, I also keep many books and some boxes of employment records in the shed (it’s a big shed — as big as the county building codes allow). Last week, I re-organized some stuff and came across a notebook of poetry I had written a long, long time ago. The poems had been written — hold on to your hat — from 1976 to 1984.

Now that I have my own website (an impossibility in 1984), my immediate reaction was to review the old poems and determine if any of them were suitable for publication. The poems were quite personal, having an ameliorative effect, and were almost like a diary. Anyway, I chose a few of them to re-write. I used adjectives which were more descriptive, replaced some adjectives with verbs, and condensed wordy stanzas into one or two lines. The result was that, although technically superior, the revised poems had lost their freshness. It became apparent that I would have to let go of the revised poems, return the originals to the tool shed or toss them into the garbage can on my way to the backyard, and recognize that my personal growth would not permit me to travel back in time. I could no longer walk in my old shoes.

Writing involves more than trying to save everything. Those old poems represented my inner conflicts during a certain phase of my life. The poems had already fulfilled their importance simply by having engaged me in a process of introspection and expression during those years, and by connecting me with friends who also wrote. Nobody else needs to be privy to that part of my life. But nothing has been lost. Rather, the poems are now given a requiem in this essay which I write for new friends.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
—The Serenity Prayer—
(Note written 08/06/07)

(7) What is inspiration?
If creative writing depends, in part, on inspiration, then it would be helpful to understand what inspiration is and how to use it. Inspiration is not mysterious or magical. For me, inspiration begins with self-awareness. That is to say, an awareness of my own feelings, values, reactions, and the choices I make in my daily living. Inspiration is similar to motivation, except that inspiration produces creativity whereas motivation pertains to any task. Inspiration cannot be imposed, but motivation can sometimes be negatively imposed: get to class on time or get detention; or positively encouraged: get an A-grade and get $10.00 from Mom and Dad.

Inspiration, however, is a much deeper and more internal process. When I know how I think and feel — how I process my experiences — then I can wonder constructively and deliberately, figure things out according to my own methods and style, develop purpose and meaning despite obstacles and criticism, and reach toward insight and conclusions. I can also change my mind, add to or subtract from my objectives and goals, organize my storage house of perceptions and concepts, because only I should control my mind. Inspiration, then, is also similar to control of one’s thoughts and feelings: the ability to navigate and direct inward processes into outward expression.

Although inspiration is an internal process, it is not internally isolated. I often, perhaps always, receive the quality or condition of inspiration from an external stimulus: from reading what others have written or listening to what others say, and from participating in my environment or observing the events of the world. Then, I connect those impressions to my personal experiences and to my storage house. These connections are essential for a recycling of thought, a continuation of thought, or a departure of thought. If I feel inspired by a speech, for example, connecting is how I maintain and utilize that inspiration. The result is creativity and the outcome is an original work, unique to each individual.

A piece of advice that is often given to writers is to write what you know about. When I was a senior in high school, my creative-writing teacher criticized one of my stories because, in her opinion, I had not written on something I knew about. I had put myself into another identity, and wrote a story from that imaginary person’s point of view (similar to what writers do nowadays with historical novels). However, I indeed knew about my topic. I was always reading books as well as a daily newspaper. I felt inspired by a topic and connected it to my life: to what I knew about. Through connecting, I was able to know more, or to know beyond my personal existence, or to know deeper than my conscious experience. Although I did not have self-awareness of that process in those days, I was beginning to do naturally what I now do deliberately.

My belief is that it is a mistake to restrict creative writing to what you know about personally. Creative writing is not the same as confession, therapy, or autobiography. Writers have a right to set boundaries on how much personal information they want to reveal and to whom. My teacher did not have, or should not have had, the right to peep into my private or family life, or to try to control my mind and what I could know about. It was not that I defied her with my story, because I was never that type of student. I actually thought I had fulfilled the assignment. However, I had unwittingly failed to conform to her generic assumptions about inspiration. I doubt that she had any clue about how to develop a personal foundation for creative writing.
(Written 11/22/10)

[NOTE: Some descriptive details in the Note No. 7 were modified to prevent any identification of real persons and situations.]

REFERENCE NOTES:

1.) Journey, by James Michener. Published by Ballantine Books, copyright 1988, 1989, ISBN: 0-449-21847-3. See pp. 298-300.

Posted on WordPress 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 5: Grammar with Ketchup

04/27/2011

Background Information

The system of English grammar, spelling, and pronunciation is complex. There are irregularities, and various exceptions to the rules which, in turn, also become rules to be mastered. However, I believe grammar is worth learning, and that academic authorities should not dumb down English writing skills in order to make it easier. I believe there is a direct connection between the command of language and the ability to think clearly: especially regarding analysis and categorization. In this essay, I reflect on changes in the English language, on the impact of the internet, and on my quest to develop a personal style that is consistently readable and ultimately workable for publishing on the web. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

Writing an informal essay is like putting ketchup on a hot dog. Purists believe that anything other than mustard on a hot dog is an abomination. Depending on what part of the country you live in, your favorite hot dog restaurant might also consent to toppings of relish, sauerkraut, chili, chopped onions, or even pickles — but never ketchup. I like both traditional and regional hot dogs, but sometimes I like my hot dog slathered with ketchup.

When I began writing informal essays for publication on the internet, I immediately encountered problems with grammar. I found it impossible to be a purist. There are several reasons. (1) Language changes over time. (2) Sentences and paragraphs look different on a webpage than on a typewritten page. (3) There are issues of confidentiality and liability which require careful word choice. (4) The profession of social work has its own jargon. (5) An informal essay on the internet is a hybrid of an academic paper and a conversation.

Grammar Is Not Perfect

(1) The rules of grammar have changed since I was a youngster, and even since the last time I did college-level work. Unless you are currently in school, or have children in school, you probably are not aware of these changes. For example, capitalization is no longer required in the title of a work, except for the first word. I could have written the title of this essay as Grammar with ketchup. Likewise, the Amazon River is now the Amazon river. Even though I am not a grammar (or hot dog) purist, it is difficult to adjust to such changes because it intuitively feels wrong.

Periods are no longer required in abbreviations such as U.S.A. When I was a girl, my paper would have gotten a red mark if I had written USA. There is also a tendency toward compound words, rather than the use of hyphenated words or two separate words. The older forms are still acceptable, but children nowadays are being taught different rules than my generation.

(2) Essays are more difficult to read on the internet than in a book. Computer monitor screens are hard on the eyes. Sometimes I have used short paragraphs to make reading easier, and to make the overall appearance of the webpage neater. In an academic paper, I would use much longer paragraphs. I have also followed the trend toward compound words, since I have no control over sentence break points on an H.T.M.L. webpage. On a typewritten page, I can control the margins and the lines of type.

Here are some typical compound words which I use: healthcare, childcare, caretaker. Other authors might, for example, write child care. On a webpage, however, if the line breaks after the word child, and the next line begins with care, it is a little more difficult to read. On a typewritten page, this can be controlled by manually breaking the line before the word child, or by formatting for a justified text. For the same reason, I have wherever feasible made compound words when using prefixes such as pre, de, sub, re, non.

(3) Most of my essays contain clumsy qualifiers which I use to alert and remind the reader that I am writing from subjective experience. These qualifiers are necessary to protect me regarding issues of confidentiality and liability. Here are some examples of these expressions: it seems that, my view is, I believe, I think, personally, sort of, perhaps, probably, possibly, some, most, many. I would prefer cleaner writing, but these qualifiers make it clear that I take responsibility for my opinions and that I am not speaking on behalf of the social work profession.

(4) There is certain social work jargon that does not fit the rules of grammar. A blatant example of this is my use of the word type to mean a kind of. However, in the worlds of social work and psychology, we often speak of types of people. For example, we speak of personality types. Similarly, I use what I call ize-words. The ize-words may or may not be grammatically correct: humanize, stabilize, infantilize, neutralize, victimize, normalize. Some of these words appear in the dictionary, but a dictionary is a mere listing of words currently in use regardless of grammatical correctness.

It gets worse. I use forward slashes. When describing human relationships, I use the forward slash to indicate this. Some examples are parent/child, mother/daughter, therapist/patient, employer/employee. I prefer the use of a slash over a hyphen because these words do not follow the meaning of hyphenated words. What is a parent-child? A child who is also a parent? The use of parent/child, however, makes it clear this refers to the relationship between parent and child.

(5) Writing an informal essay is like having a conversation with the reader, except that the rules of grammar are more important when writing than when talking. Moreover, the structure of an academic paper is formal, while the flow of a conversation is informal even though the same topics can be discussed. I found myself wanting to use the old academic standards to which I was accustomed. But I was forced to innovate or modify rules of grammar in order to communicate in a relaxed and comfortable manner.

Leaning toward the academic approach, I chose to use underlining and quotation marks according to the rules. I reserved my use of italics for made-up words, and to show emphasis or distinction. Then I developed an irregular use of shifts in person because I felt it helped rather than hindered comprehension. From one paragraph to the next, I sometimes use I, you, we, they; and less frequently he or one. This is a matter of practicality and style.

It is common in everyday conversation to use their, they, them (third person plural) for the singular indefinite person. During the pre-feminist days in which I grew up, only the generic he was permitted in written work. But with the impact of feminism, this was considered sexist. People began using the awkward he or she, and his or her, and then he/she. Later on, some people began mixing their use of he and she, using the two pronouns alternately from chapter to chapter. Authors would often preface their books with an explanation of how they were going to gramatically express equality of the sexes.

My decision was to use their, they, them in the informal essay. In formal academic work, I would probably use the old-fashioned, visually compact, and easy-to-pronounce he. It seems unnecessarily strict, however, to insist that English speakers avoid their, they, them in written work. If some rules for capitalization and periods have been eliminated, then why not permit us to use their, they, them which is very appropriate to the English language? In French this would be ghastly, but in English it feels natural.

Another irregularity is my use of numbers. Sometimes I like to number my paragraphs. It helps to keep ideas orderly and prevent paragraphs from becoming disjointed. This is especially true when the main topic involves several subtopics. Of course, I could use second-level headings (and sometimes I do), but some essays just seem more coherent with a numbered paragraph structure. It saves space, and therefore internet loading time, on the webpage because I do not have to fill in with extra words to make a smooth transition between paragraphs. I can get straight to the point.

Finally, if you do not like ketchup on your hot dogs, then do not even bother to read my Bibliography Notes. Regarding consulted sources, however, it is permissible to devise one’s own style of list. My list is a combination of footnotes and bibliography, intended for handy usefulness. It is simple without being cryptic, and readable without being wordy. It is arranged so that I can list sources systematically and add helpful comments as well.

Grammar Books Then and Now

When I was in graduate school, students relied heavily on two books for grammar and writing instructions: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White; and Student’s Guide, by Turabian. These books were commonly, if not affectionately, nicknamed the Strunk and the Turabian. The Strunk is still around, now in its Fourth Edition (1999), and was recently made available in an illustrated version (2005).

Compared to twenty years ago, there are now a myriad of grammar books in the bookstores. All books seem to teach the same rules regarding the parts of speech (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections), punctuation (periods, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, etc.), and mechanics (capitals, underlining, italics, abbreviations). There are variations, however, regarding the citation of sources.

If you are writing a paper for school, your professor should tell you which citation style is preferred for the class. The Chicago Manual of Style, used in the humanities, is based on the old Turabian. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, which is the citation system of the Modern Language Association, is used for English papers and some humanities. This is the system now taught in the high schools. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is used in psychology and social sciences. Younger generations may find this information redundant. Older prospective students and writers, however, may need to be updated.

For the sake of consistency, I use The Little, Brown Handbook as a reference for correct grammar. This textbook provides thorough instructions for college-level writing. There are several other such books on the market —  it is a matter of personal choice. I use Practical English Usage as a secondary source. This book is “…a dictionary of problem points…,” and is very convenient when I need quick help. Both of the above books give special attention to foreign learners. Sometimes, I go back to the old, slim copies of Strunk and Turabian just to get my bearings.

It is not easy. I become nostalgic for the days of firm rules, the days of the all-beef dog with mustard. Yet, I feel conflicted. I like choices and variety. I like having the option to develop clarity in my own way. I would never pour pancake syrup on my grammar, but squeezing out some bright red ketchup helps to make sense of rules that are complex and ever changing. (Written 01/23/06)

REFERENCE NOTES:

<<>>These are textbooks on which I depend for my writing needs:
1.) A Manual for Writers, by Kate L. Turabian. Published by The University of Chicago Press, 1967, Third Edition Revised, ISBN: 0-226-81619-4. For information on creating unique bibliographies, see p. 66.
2.) The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Published by Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1979, Third Edition, IBSN: 0-02-418190-0.
3.) The Little, Brown Handbook, by H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron. Published by Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 1998, Seventh Edition, ISBN: 0-321-01216-X.
4.) Practical English Usage, by Michael Swan. Published by Oxford University Press, 1995, Second Edition, ISBN: 0-19-431197-X. For information on the use of their, they, them for the singular indefinite person, see p. 528.
5.) The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, by Rise B. Axelrod and Charles R. Cooper. Published by St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1991, Short Third Edition, ISBN: 0-312-03494-6.
6.) Student’s Guide, by Kate L. Turabian. Published by The University of Chicago Press, 1976, Third Edition, ISBN: 0-226-81622-2.
<<>>This book is helpful for its correct grammar and for examples of how to use social work jargon:
7.) The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, by Irvin D. Yalom. Published by Basic Books, 1995, Fourth Edition, ISBN: 0465084486.

Posted on WordPress blog 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 6: My Books, Mine

04/27/2011

Background Information

Writers love books. Readers love books. I think I could safely say that writers are readers, although not all readers are writers. Moreover, not everyone who opens a book has respect for books: a love of knowledge and insight, or an appreciation of the author. This essay relates the story of how I slowly learned this painful but valuable lesson. This essay also represents the kind of essay that I really enjoy writing: creative essays about people and events from my own life and which do not require hours of research. I find contentment and solace as I sit at my computer, reflect, choose words, and compose a very readable essay. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

People who borrow books are different from people who buy their own books. I learned this from hard experience in lending out my books. My books are my treasures. Each book contains a world of knowledge and insight, and each author is a friend who fulfills a need. People who ask to borrow my books do not seem to share this perspective. To them a book is no more than a broom or a fork, just a convenience for getting something done.

My experiences in book loans took place mostly during my college years. For example, I had a friend who was an older student. He was doing research and he noticed some relevant books on my shelf. Could he borrow one or two? He would bring them right back. In those days it was difficult for me to say no to a friend. So, he took home five of my books. It made me a little nervous to let go of my treasures, but I naively thought that my friend loved books as much as I did.

He never returned the books. The weeks went by and the end of the school year was approaching. I developed a new assertive skill and told him that I needed my books back. He did not even remember having borrowed them. He was very casual about it, and asked me if I remembered which books he had taken. I didn’t. He suggested that in the future I make a list of any books I lend out. Duly noted. He told me to choose out any five books I wanted from his shelf, and we would let that close the matter. I took five books home.

It took more than one experience for me to really catch on to the psychological dynamics behind book-borrowing. One day, I was talking to another friend about a couple of books I was reading and how much these books were helping me with a class project. She was excited about the ideas I shared with her. Could she borrow the books? She would read them over the weekend and bring them right back. Well, she brought them back as promised. But each had ketchup and mustard stains all over the cover. I wondered if she had used my books as placemats for her take-out food.

After that I stopped lending out my books. Those yucky stains gave me the mettle to be impolite and say no. I began telling people that I really needed access to all my books at all times for reference. I gave myself the right to be selfish and to protect my financial investment in books. I did not spend money on books for other people to ruin. I did not have to be anyone’s private librarian. My books are mine. Mine, mine, mine!

My books are highly personal, like my jewelry or perfume. I never ask to borrow anyone’s books. If I hear about a good book, I buy it or I check it out of the library. If someone offers to lend me a book, I may or may not accept it. On those occasions when I accept, I then return the book within one week and in the same condition that it was given to me. I am not comfortable with taking responsibility for other people’s belongings.

Borrowing books can be an expression of passive-aggressive behavior. My so-called friends who borrowed my books knew my personality and how I cherished everything that books have to offer. Looking back on those college days, I now see that I encountered others’ indirect expressions of anger. Not returning borrowed books, or returning them damaged, is similar to other forms of tardiness and forgetfulness which are typical of passive-aggressive people.

My rule not to lend books worked well for several years. Most people understood. The few who pressed me for a book loan, despite my answer of no, were people who were not really friends anyway. My books stayed on my shelf unless I took them down for my own use.

Then I weakened. A friend was going through a difficult time. In addition to talking with her, I recommended a book that related to her situation. Could she borrow mine right now and read it tonight? She was in such distress that I lent her the book. Same old story. She never returned it. Weeks went by. I felt selfish and guilty to place the return of my book above her welfare. But I also felt disquiet within myself, knowing that my generosity had not been appreciated.

Once again, I pulled together the assertive skill to ask if she had finished my book. “Oh, yeah,” she exclaimed in surprise at my inquiry. She had finished reading it and enjoyed it so much that she lent it to her sister. She would get the book the next time she visited her sister. A few days later she returned the book: crumpled and dirty. I have bought used books in much better condition. If I had owned that book the rest of my life, I could not have managed to destroy it so badly.

I did not own the book for the rest of my life because I threw it in the trash. I bought myself a new copy. I learned a final lesson on the financial and emotional considerations involved in making friends with passive-aggressive people. I do not reject all such people as friends, but I maintain an awareness of the possible obstacles and how to protect my own lifestyle.

[NOTE: Some descriptive details in this essay were modified to prevent any identification of real persons and situations. This essay is based on personal experiences which may be unique to the author, and is not intended to make a general statement on the character of all individuals who borrow books or lend books.] (Written 06/06/05)

Posted on WordPress blog 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 7: Publishing–Taking Control of Information

04/27/2011

Background Information

In my Wave of Consciousness essays, this essay was originally entitled “Essay No. 50.” The number 50 has an anniversary connotation, and I was happy to reach that level. When I began writing essays, I had no plan as to how many I would write. When I reached “Essay No. 50,” I decided that I would write a total of 500 essays. I thought that sounded like a respectable accomplishment. As I continued writing, however, my essays tended to get longer and some required painstaking research and fact-checking. I reduced my goal to 300, and then to 200.

For the purpose of reprinting this essay, I changed the title. Taking charge of information is really what freedom of speech is all about. It is the opposite of succumbing to censorship, political correctness, government oppression, or even someone’s harsh criticism of your work. If I had allowed myself to act on fear — a fear which indeed I felt — of negative repercussions, I would never have begun publishing. To write is to have power–and some people do not want you to feel and exercise that power. I wrote this essay to defend and justify my writing (in anticipation of possible problems which I have yet to encounter). (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

Welcome to my 50th essay since my first publication on October 1, 2001, less than a month after the terrorist attacks on our nation. I began writing these essays as a way to cope with September 11th, and I continue writing for similar personal reasons. This is a highly personal and private venture which I choose, as a process of self-expression and catharsis, to offer to others for study.

Wave of Consciousness is not a professional website, although I expect that other professionals and students are the main readers. I do not write to contribute to social work knowledge or to enhance the profession. I do not write to assist colleagues, to advocate for social justice, or to serve as a whistleblower on any agency or practitioner. I do not write as a means of performing a pro-bono service. These are social work responsibilities to which I adhere when I am on the job. I also behave appropriately as a member of the social work profession when I am in public. Moreover, I use a portion of my own time and money to further my professionalism through continued education.

Because I have worked in the helping professions for a number of years, it is a great part, although not the whole, of my identity. I love social work. I cannot help forming my thoughts from a professional caretaker’s perspective. It has become my nature. It is the way I look at life and how I make sense out of human behavior. Although I do not particularly write as a social worker, I write from a background of social work which heavily influences my interests. This distinction is essential in marking the boundary between my professional and personal levels of manageability.

I have various facets to my identity. I am entitled to a private life. Social workers have First Amendment rights, too. These rights have become more dear to me since September 11th. I have always enjoyed writing for self-expression of my private thoughts and feelings (i.e., poetry). But now I write from an appreciation of my First Amendment rights and a conviction to utilize this precious freedom. Therefore, I am sharing my compositions with peers who might relate to how I am coping with home and work issues in our unstable world.

If you analyze my writing, you will notice that (thus far) I express commentary and opinion as well as certain episodes from my daily life. Any essay that is problem-focused is also solution-focused. My essays emphasize understanding and convey a spirit of hope. Among the essays which express concerns regarding the profession or our national and global situations: about one-third are problem-focused, and about two-thirds are supportive of someone or some situation where life-affirming activity is happening. I have also started to write more fiction as creative option.

My literary maxim is actually derived from Holy Scripture. “…..whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). This passage would seem to give breadth to love of knowledge, problem-solving, beauty and order, personal reflection, and supportive communication. My essays attempt to discuss some of these “whatsoever things.”

My writing is personal and yet public. It is the internet that makes these two qualities complimentary and possible. The internet affords me the opportunity to be writer, editor and publisher. This is a new identity for me. As I write, I hone this identity. People who like my message can keep visiting my website. People who do not like my message can simply find other websites to visit. There is no pressure either way, and no necessity to praise or despise me: the emphasis is on freedom of self-expression and availability of information and ideas.

Those other facets of my identity, which I had started to mention earlier, are the reasons that I continue to write. There are intellectual, spiritual, and amicable facets which are permitted expression in my essays. On the job, we social workers set aside our personal life for the sake of the patient. Our priority is patient care. I have no complaint about that. My joy is to build up another’s life. But I have to take care of myself, too. My writing is an act of self-care.

If visitors personally gain from my essays, this would be a pleasant reward added onto the satisfaction of self-expression and creativity. It would mean that communication was accomplished, that a human connection was achieved among peers. If by chance my essays contribute to the study of social work, this would be a fringe benefit which, of course, I would not reject. If my essays contain errors, then I will need to exercise humility and wisdom to perceive those errors and make corrections. I also reserve the right to change my mind and write something that might seem contradictory to something I wrote before. I really do not have a comfort zone: I like to challenge myself.

If I accomplish nothing more than to maintain my own sanity so that I can function at my best, that alone has to be worthwhile. Surely nobody in our democratic society would deny me this. So, I will probably keep writing so long as my mind keeps processing thoughts and feelings. You are welcomed to keep sharing my world. (Written 01/05/04)

Posted on WordPress blog 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 8: Library Cards and Equality

04/27/2011

Background Information

My love of books goes back to my childhood. Books were a natural part of growing up: like toys, games, and dolls. The difference is that while toys and dolls are eventually put away, books remain a lifelong interest. However, some people also put away their books during the growing up process — at the very time when books could be the most useful. Lifelong readers tend to spend a portion of their free time in libraries and bookstores. Since those places are filled with people who are also looking for books, it is easy to forget that not everybody reads. I was especially confronted with this reality in my career as a social worker. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

Although I do most of my research over the internet, I still love books and libraries. Libraries are safe places, filled with information and knowledge, and librarians are usually great people. Speaking of librarians, first lady Laura Bush gave a speech for National Library Week. She described libraries as places of equality and stated that, “…I have found the most valuable item in my wallet to be my library card.”

But, let’s face it, libraries are not cool (not in the usual sense of the word). Cool can be merely fashionable, or cool can be counter-cultural and even antisocial. Cool is probably an American invention, probably originating as a side-effect of American jazz and rock ‘n’ roll music cultures. Cool is an attitude and, at worst, the attitude is one of unfounded and arbitrary superiority.

Many of my alcoholic and drug addict patients have had an attitude of cool. They may have started abusing alcohol and drugs to fit in with the cool crowd, to belong, to feel whole. Cool is so attractive on the surface. The veneer hides the structural flaws. If only they could live life over, some addicts would probably gladly trade their first line of cocaine for a library card.

It seems without exception that my patients will always insist that everybody in their schools was abusing alcohol and drugs. Upon further questioning, they will begin to admit that, well, maybe not everybody abused alcohol and drugs. Maybe some of their classmates did homework at night, or watched television with siblings, or, you guessed it, went to the library on Saturday afternoons.

What they really mean when they say everybody abused alcohol and drugs is: everybody who was cool. They wanted desperately to be a part of the cool crowd, so they began abusing alcohol and drugs, too. They sacrificed their academic potential, their place in society, their future — all in the name of cool.

I do not mean to sound overly simplistic. I realize that many college students also abuse alcohol and drugs, and college students do have an acquaintance with the library. A library card is not a cure. I am talking about books and libraries as a lifestyle with both practical and intrinsic rewards. I am thinking more in terms of the acquisition of helpful information, reading as a positive leisure activity, and academic pursuit as a lifelong commitment.

In my work, I have often encouraged patients to get a library card. I encourage those who are illiterate to take adult reading classes (which are offered for free at, you guessed it, the public library). I explain the benefits of visiting the library: books, magazines, videos, D.V.D.’s, computers, a sober environment, a place where the unemployed can spend some constructive time, an opportunity to get away from a dysfunctional household. I try to encourage the reading of novels as a positive way to escape the stress of daily living. My encouragement, however, meets with only small success.

Visiting the library seems to be a habit that has to be developed early in life. Not all people enjoy reading, anyway. The sad thing for the youth who are deceived by the false promises of alcohol and drugs is that they may never get another chance to decide for themselves whether reading books is for them, or whether they could be happier with a different group of friends. By the time they enter treatment — if they enter treatment — getting a library card may not seem like getting a free ticket into the world of equality.

Whenever I see a patient reading a newspaper or a paperback novel as they sit in the waiting room, I take heart. When a patient enters my office and recommends a book to me, I am thrilled to read that book and use it as a reference point in the therapy session. Reading is a personal quest. I believe that those who read a book even occasionally, will somehow live a more inspired life than those without the printed word. (Written 07/01/02 )

 REFERENCE NOTES:

1.) “Remarks for Laura Bush for National Library Week Celebration and American Library Association’s @Your Library Event,” 04/03/01, [WWW document] URL www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/04/20010403-8.html

Posted on WordPress blog 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 9: Last Essay

04/27/2011

Background Information

Although this essay does not quite fit in with the others which I chose to include in this book, I felt it was important for two reasons. First, it shows that writing can involve a specific project with a beginning and an ending. My essays, for example, represent one phase of my range of writing. Perhaps I will write essays again someday, but I am not strictly a writer of essays. Just as I was never exclusively a social worker, but had other aspects to my identity, I also have other directions in which I want to travel with my pen and paper — and my computer.

Second, this essay shows how books (the reading of literature, history, etc.) can serve as a stimulus for one’s own writing. I had intended to write a goodbye-essay as a way to bring closure to my essay project in Wave of Consciousness — I did not want to depart abruptly and leave my readers without a feeling of wholeness. I did not plan, however, to refer to Charles Dickens. I just happened to be reading David Copperfield, the ending of which gave me a structure for writing my “Last Essay.” Dickens had already expressed my feelings for me. Although this is not a technique that I would use routinely, I think it worked in this instance and it was an enjoyable exercise. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

September 11, 2001, required the personal adjustment of every American. Over the past ten years, I have attempted to understand that horrific day: its underlying causes, its far-reaching consequences, and how it changed my daily life. The method and the outcome of this attempt was the writing of over 200 essays about 9/11, current events, the profession of social work, and some of my day-to-day activities.

As I bring closure to this project, I will turn to Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield to guide me to the completion of this phase of my self-development and my pursuit of truth and reason.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

Thank you to all my heroes whom I have discovered on my journey: the 9/11 responders (and all responders throughout the world who secure our safety); our military men and women; our Border Patrol agents; every person listed in my Bibliography Notes who had the courage to grapple with difficult problems; and every reader of Wave of Consciousness, though we have never met, but who nonetheless enabled me to cultivate the reality of United We Stand.

The purpose of writing — beyond self-expression — is to publish and thereby make a genuine connection with readers. I hope, in this last essay, that our connection is re-affirmed rather than extinguished. Like David Copperfield toward Agnes, I have tried to be honest — to be a trustworthy source of inquiry and ideas. May that record prevail over distance and time.

And now, I tried to tell her of the struggle I had had, and the conclusion I had come to. I tried to lay my mind before her, truly, and entirely I tried to show her how I had hoped I had come into the better knowledge of myself and of her, how I had resigned myself to what that better knowledge brought, and how I had come there, even that day, in my fidelity to this.

Agnes, I must now turn to other projects and diversify my methods. I could write essays forever — I enjoy it so much — but the consuming effort only hinders other creative endeavors.

And now, do I close my task, subduing my desire to linger yet, these faces fade away. But, one face, shining on me like a Heavenly light by which I see all other objects, is above them and beyond them all. And that remains.

It will not surprise anyone that the face which I kept before my eyes throughout my essay-writing was the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. But, there are other visual forms that motivate and inspire: the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, the Cross. The historical and spiritual meanings of such images helped me to stay focused on America’s greatest values throughout this era of crisis, conflict, and distrust.

The Wave of Consciousness essays will remain on the internet for anyone who cares to spend some time here. My commitment, at this turning point, is to the freedom of speech and the access of information. Dear reader, I have given you my best, such as it is. God Bless America. (Written 12/01/10)

REFERENCE NOTES:

1.) David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens. Published by A Signet Classic, 1962, originally written around 1870. See pp. 13, 856, 870.

Posted on WordPress blog 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland

Chapter 10: Extra Credit

04/27/2011

Background Information

Extra credit is a significant but amusing concept. Students who do not need extra credit will often do the extra assignment because they have a strong work ethic. Students who need the extra credit often lack motivation and interest. A few in the latter category, however, will wisely choose to get the few extra points they need to boost their grade from a “B” to an “A”, or from a “D” to a “C.” I decided to give myself extra credit for this chapter. I think I need it.

Below is an excerpt from an essay which was originally entitled “Lost Dreams, Part II.” I extracted the paragraphs that more clearly focused on writing and reading. I had considered including it in Chapter Four, “A Collection of Random Notes,” but changed my mind because the writing was structured as an essay rather than as a note. That was when I recognized another element of the larger writing process: deciding the arrangement of chapters or sections within the overall bulk of a manuscript. Writing involves selection and balance.

Moreover, this partial essay shows that the desire to write can happen later in life. I did not always want to be a writer. It was not my first love. Even after I pursued writing as a serious endeavor, it was difficult to find the time to write. I went through three phases of writing poetry. Next, I wrote a book of children’s stories. However, a friend noticed that the stories presented two different grade-levels of reading comprehension. I would have to divide it into two books, and write additional stories for each grade-level. I never had the time to fix that problem, and I lost my momentum. Then, I started writing five novels — all at the same time. I developed notes and outlines for plots and characters, but never found the time to write complete manuscripts.

Finally, when I started writing essays in 2001, I seemed to find my niche in the world of creative expression. It was when I approached my senior citizen years that I managed, with the advent and aid of computers and the internet, to mold something into publishing condition. Essay-writing anchored me and liberated me. It is my foundation on which I will build other works. Everyone has a unique journey, and this was mine. (Written 12/01/10)

Essay Begins Here

Yes, I really would like to be rich enough to purchase Gore Vidal’s estate. There, I admitted it. I would like to be rich! I wish I could afford an estate, but not because of greed or vainglory. It is just that a beautiful environment with places for privacy and solitude, as well as room for family and friends, seems ideal. It usually (though not always) takes a lot of money to buy quality. For example, my fantasy (or one of them!) is to own an original work of art. Maybe a Monet or Pissarro. Just one painting. I could be humble. Even just one Monet in my house would provide constant emotional nurture to my daily routine.

Now, words and grammar are cheaper and more precise than visual art, and they can be structured into infinite spoken and written beauty. A novel by Gore Vidal is a novel by Gore Vidal, whether you buy it new in hardcover or as a used and tattered paperback. You can buy an inexpensive reproduction of a painting, but it just is not the same. Words, however, do not change when mass-produced. I realized this when I was a young adult. Words provide an economical richness for those of us on tight budgets. So, I traded in my expensive art supplies for a much less costly pen and paper.

That is why I changed my college major to linguistics. I went to college in a era that had become modernized in course offerings. In addition to the standard academic courses in science, history and literature, courses in anthropology, psychology and sociology had gained respect. Along with this, however, was the growing tendency toward specialization. The old-fashioned liberal arts major had mostly disappeared along with the twist and the watusi. A major in linguistics, however, enabled the student to traverse different academic departments (especially foreign languages, literature, philosophy — somewhat similar to the old liberal arts major), but at the same time bound the various courses together thematically. And, despite its crossover diversity, linguistics maintained its rightful presence as an academic department in itself.

Languages open new worlds of travel, literature, and friends. Language opens the relationship between therapist and patient. Traditional therapy involves talking. It means that the patient needs to have some minimal verbal skills in order to participate. My major in linguistics served me well in that respect. I had decided that I could make my living as a librarian or French language teacher, but life’s compass eventually pointed toward social work. The loss of the other two career possibilities was not a lost dream, but simply a change of plans based on more options and my increased self-awareness.

Funny, how it all fits together in sum: a respect for the environment, a need for shape, form, color and texture, a love of language and communication, a fascination with feelings and emotions, a memory of lost dreams, a quest for purpose and meaning, and an acceptance of the aging process while ever moving forward over obstacles and to goals. We all have choices to make. Sometimes our choices are within a limited range, but usually choices are available and we have to take responsibility for how we managed our lives.

Losing a dream or two or three can always be compensated for. We can transform lost dreams into viable alternatives. Serious harm is done only when we lose our humanity, mental stability, or spirituality. There are unscrupulous people and unjust systems in this world that would ruin our capacity for caring, undermine our mental health, and negate our faith. Summing up our life’s choices can fill us with regret and self-reproach, but it can also reveal and affirm the essence of who we are. (Written 08/18/03 )

Posted on WordPress blog 04/27/11

Copyright About Writing and Reading 2010 Natalia J. Garland